10 November 2023

Refuge responds to Home Affairs Committee inquiry report on policing priorities

Responding to the Home Affairs Committee inquiry report on policing priorities, Refuge Interim CEO Ellen Miller, said:

“Refuge has long warned of the many barriers survivors of domestic abuse face in being able to report the crimes committed against them. It is vital survivors feel safe and have trust and confidence in the police so that they can access justice. Refuge agrees with the findings in this report issued today that the police service must repair its culture and is only fit to police violence against women and girls (VAWG) if it is able to police itself effectively first, and thanks the Committee for the opportunity to contribute to this important Inquiry.

We have read report after report about the toxic culture within policing and know only too well how some officers are attracted to a career in policing so that they can abuse and exploit this position of power.

Whilst changes to vetting procedures are welcome and we are pleased that the Home Office is engaging with stakeholders to create a list of criminal offences which would automatically amount to gross misconduct upon conviction, this needs to be addressed with urgency. We agree with the Committee and ask the Home Office to set out by the end of the year its timetable for completing this work and assurances that all forms of VAWG amount to gross misconduct.

We also need to see a focus on preventative measures to root out rogue officers with improved vetting procedures in place upon recruitment and in service, currently we are seeing too much variation between forces, and officers evading vetting upon transfer.

Refuge’s ‘Remove the Rot’ campaign calls for mandatory suspension of any police officer or staff member accused of violence against women and girls related misconduct whilst a full investigation is carried out. We know less than a quarter of police officers and staff accused of VAWG related misconduct between 1 May 2022 to 1 May 2023 were suspended pending the outcome of an investigation and the proportion suspended varied enormously depending on the police force. So there’s patent inconsistency and too many officers displaying misogynistic, abusive and violent behaviours are currently falling through the cracks. Again, there is a nationwide disparity in how forces suspended their officers following an accusation of VAWG, meaning that even after they are accused, many officers will still have access to a role, equipment and systems that can be used to threaten, coerce and control women and girls.

In recent months and years, we have heard of officers committing the most heinous crimes against women and girls who were renowned as serial offenders with a long history of misogynistic and abusive behaviour, they’d even been given nicknames by their colleagues and been brought to the attention of the police, with no action taken. These offenders are hiding in plain sight, empowered by their uniform and the silence around them. Cultural change must happen to ensure staff are confident to speak up, allegations must be listened to and swiftly investigated and acted upon.

Another barrier preventing survivors from trusting the police is fears their immigration status will be used against them. Refuge echoes the Domestic Abuse Commissioner’s calls to establish an appropriate firewall between the police and the Home Office to prevent data sharing for the purposes of enforcing immigration rules, survivor safety has to be paramount.

Violence against women and girls is supposed to be a national strategic policing priority and more must be done to ensure all survivors feel safe in coming forward to the police, as well as rooting out abusers within the force.”